Staying Healthy at the Office

After a long day’s work, we all like to sit down to an evening of terrible reality television, right? I can’t be the only one enthralled by The Bachelor, right? I’m 100% sure there are critics out there who would say that we’re killing our brain cells by watching it, but I’m just as sure that there are scientists with plenty of data showing how sitting down is killing our bodies.

Murderous Chairs

Within minutes of sitting down, your body experiences a number of adverse effects, including an inhibition of the blood flow to the lower extremities and a suspension of the breakdown of fats and sugars, and medical research studies (from big names like the Mayo Clinic, no less) have repeatedly shown that being otherwise active—even spending an hour a night at home running on your inclining treadmill—will not even make a dent in those adverse effects.

The question then becomes what we can do to minimize the damage—since, unfortunately, quitting our jobs to become experts on English grammar isn’t among the things we can realistically do.

As a quick detour, let me deal with the possibility of using a standing desk: standing desks bring their own adverse effects. For instance, if you have a standing desk, you’re almost nine times more likely to develop carotid atherosclerosis.

Using an adjustable sit-stand desk is theoretically better than either of the former options, but most workers get annoyed with, or at least tired of, switching from one position to the other and end up simply using it as a standard sitting workstation. So, what are we left with?

Healthy Practices

Depending on what sort of office work you do, you may find it rather simple to decrease your time in the chair. For instance, if you’re working in Sales, it’s fairly easy to convince your boss that buying the Sales department members a Bluetooth-enabled headset is a great idea. You’ll be up and about and thus far more energetic—and thus far more likely to capture the attention of the person on the other end of the line. And that’s an idea any boss can get behind. Make sure your boss springs for someheadset cases though, since no one’s liable to be happy if you end up losing or breaking your headset.

Unfortunately, if you work in most any other department, that strategy isn’t likely to work. The key then is to get out of the chair as often as you can. For every twenty to thirty minutes you’re sitting at your desk, get up and at least walk around—best, in my opinion, if you get up and walk around outside, even if it’s just around the building. If you combine this walking around with a bit of stretching and some resting of the eyes, you may even find that the loss of a few minutes won’t change your overall productivity. You might also consider holding “walking meetings,” which are exactly what they sound like (you and your co-workers walk around and conduct your meeting on the go), whenever possible. And/or, try having a stretching meeting, which, again, is exactly what it sounds like: you all getting out of your chairs and stretching while you discuss the coming quarter, or whatever else is on the day’s agenda.

If you can, take the stairs (try doing two at a time) to the floor above you and use their bathroom or drinking fountain. Or, if you have a question for your co-worker, be sure to get up and walk over to your co-workers desk.

When you go to the printer to pick up your documents, or if you go to copy some documents, do some calf raises while you’re there. It may sound strange, but you ought to try fidgeting: rapidly tapping your feet or excitedly gesturing are easy and natural, and they may help you burn up to an extra 350 calories a day.

Office-Wide Health Concern

Surely you care about your fellow co-workers, and you want them to be healthy along with you, so one of the best ways to keep yourself fit at the office is to get your co-workers involved. It’s one thing to do copy-room calf raises by yourself, but it’s another thing to do it in front of your co-workers when you’re just at your desk.

The fact is that there are plenty of exercises you can do at your desk, and some of them are quite effective (desk push-ups and chair dips are excellent), but you probably won’t use them if you’re the only one focused on health and fitness. But, if you can get them involved, then you won’t have to feel self-conscious about doing these exercises.

Consider approaching management about instituting a company-wide health promotion program. By setting clear health goals, and by providing incentives (whether monetary or otherwise), you can all end up in much better shape than you’d otherwise have been.

See this article for more information on the health risks posed by prolonged sitting.